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Blog: We need clarity for quality recycling

Date: 18/10/2013 | Author: Jim Malone

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DS Smith Recycling European sales & purchasing director Jim Malone shares his view on separate collections and quality

Over the past few weeks there’s been a lot of discussion on the ever continuing debate about kerbside sort or commingling collection methods.

We’ve had the chairman of the Local Government Association claiming the success of the Judicial Review could save millions for local authorities. And there’s been mixed reports from other organisations, now no longer favouring one collection method over the other.

This comes at a time when there are increasingly growing worries about stocks of recycled materials building up on these shores. Most prominent are the amounts of mixed plastics from commingled sources that can no longer find a home in China due to its Green Fence policy. We’ve had a spate of fires at recycling facilities over the summer, burning through stockpiles of mixed low-grade materials.

On the plus side the paper industry has seen improvements in quality, generated by the higher import quality demands in China. The policy is causing change and improving the quality of materials. One recovered paper company has noted a fall in contamination levels from 7 per cent to 1.5 per cent. This is all going in the right direction, but only from one business. We need to see this happening across the board.

This seems a good opportunity to focus on the environmental element of collecting commingled materials where separate collections are not technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP). While we’re waiting for guidance from Defra on what will be classed as TEEP, the issue of quality is still on the agenda. We understand that in some instances it isn’t practical to collect recyclable materials in any other way, but the Judicial Review did state that commingled collections still need to facilitate the production of high quality recyclate.

There are also discussions over the collection of glass and whether it will need to be collected separately to count as recycling. The material can count as recycled if it is used in bottle manufacturing or another closed loop process, but there is uncertainty whether it’s seen as being recycled if sent for aggregate. As we all know the former attracts a higher quality of material, required for the manufacturing process and the latter a poorer quality due to the collection method. And using glass for aggregates is only really landfilling, not recycling.

This debate again raises the question over a proper definition of recycling rates – simply the material collected for recycling or the material actually recycled? You know where I stand on the issue.
So at a time when there’s still a lot up in the air, decisions and definitions still to be agreed, it seems rather premature to state the potential millions local authorities could be saving. The debate is far from over.

This blog first appeared at http://www.dssmithrecycling.com/latest-blog-definitions-crucial-to-improving-material-quality/ and is reproduced with permission

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